Our Town: New Orleans Residents Demand the Reopening of Public Housing Units

HANO resident, Stephanie Mingo,
talks to a reporter at the NOHEAT

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Our Town
New Orleans Residents Demand the Reopening of Public Housing Units

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A HANO resident looks on as
protestors demand public housing

Former residents of the St. Bernard public housing complex were recently joined by housing advocates and activist Cindy Sheehan in a protest calling for more housing for Katrina survivors. Sponsored by the New Orleans Housing Emergency Action Team (NOHEAT), the protestors gathered to demand that the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) reopen hundreds of units for evacuees who want to come home.

“People say we don’t want to come home, but I do want to come home,” Stephanie Mingo, a lifelong resident at St. Bernard, told a crowd gathered in front of the public housing development as TV reporters and New Orleans police looked on.

“I’ll come back and sleep in a shack if I have to,” continued Mingo. “I lost my mom in Katrina. This is my home and where I want to be. I paid $450 rent in this development and I could do it again. Why is FEMA putting out all this money for trailers when they could fix public housing?”

HANO, which was taken over by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2002, has been criticized for its slow pace in bringing residents back to public housing in New Orleans. Officials say that repairs are underway at some complexes, and that the St. Bernard complex – the largest public housing complex in the city – is still unsafe to occupy.

Before Hurricane Katrina, HANO managed 7,379 public housing rental units, 5,146 of which were occupied. A total of 695 families have returned to four complexes that are partially reopened and at other scattered sites of public housing. HANO officials have said that they expect 60 percent of its public housing residents to return.

The agency has also come under criticism for recent spending. Thousands of dollars were spent to install steel security plates over doors and windows at some complexes. Plans are underway to spend over half a million dollars on two security fences surrounding the St. Bernard and B.W. Cooper complexes. And, finally, HANO has decided to lease 60 acres of vacant land to Home Depot for a temporary retail location.

The land used to hold buildings, now demolished, at B.W. Cooper. Activists say the vacant lot could be used to house trailers for returning evacuees. Engineers point out that the first floors of buildings at the St. Bernard and B.W. Cooper complexes were flooded with about two feet of water – less than other areas of the city where homeowners are already rebuilding – while the upper two floors remained unscathed.

“I want everybody to come home,” said Mingo, a single parent of four children who is now living in Houston.

After Katrina, Mongo floated on a refrigerator with her children through the hurricane’s flood waters to reach the I-10 overpass and evacuation by helicopter.

“Just open this development,” demanded Mingo. “Nothing’s wrong with the second and third floors. Get the residents to come and clean it out.”

Speakers called on repairs to be completed at St. Bernard by April 15 and for the Desire and Florida complexes, largely destroyed by Katrina, to be rebuilt.

“People say that as the Lower Ninth Ward goes, so will go the rest of New Orleans,” said organizer Elizabeth Cook. “The same can be said about public housing in New Orleans.”

Our Town is a weekly column about grassroots rebuilding efforts in the Gulf Coast. Information related to grassroots activities in the Gulf Coast can be forwarded to wmsasser05 [at] yahoo [dot] com.